Iran protests point to turmoil in the future

An Iranian protester chants slogans against Tehran in Brussels, Belgium. (AP)
Updated 30 November 2019

Iran protests point to turmoil in the future

  • As Iran struggles under crushing US sanctions, its elected civilian government and those in its theocracy will face ever-tougher decisions on where to cut costs

DUBAI: Even among hard-liners in Iran, there seems to be an acknowledgment of one fact after widespread protests, violence and a security force crackdown following a spike in government-set gasoline prices: This will not be the last time demonstrators come out on the street.

As Iran struggles under crushing US sanctions following President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of America from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers, its elected civilian government and those in its Shiite theocracy will face ever-tougher decisions on where to cut costs.

Those cuts will more than likely target its vast system of government subsidies that make life affordable for its poor, from low-cost electricity in their homes to the bread on their plates. Any move to increase those prices will draw further protests. But the government may not have any other option.

The protests that struck some 100 cities and towns across Iran beginning Nov. 15 came after Iran raised minimum gasoline prices by 50 percent to 15,000 rials per liter. That is 12 cents a liter, or about 50 cents a gallon. After a monthly 60-liter quota, it costs 30,000 rials a liter. That is nearly 24 cents a liter or 90 cents a gallon. An average gallon of regular gas in the US costs $2.58 by comparison, according to AAA.

Cheap gasoline is practically considered a birthright in Iran, home to the world’s fourth-largest crude oil reserves despite decades of economic woes since its 1979 Islamic Revolution. Gasoline there remains among the cheapest in the world, in part to help keep costs low for its underemployed, who often drive taxis to make ends meet.

Iran’s per-capita gross domestic product, often used as a rough sense of a nation’s standard of living, is just over $6,000, compared to over $62,000 in the US, according to the World Bank. That disparity, especially given Iran’s oil wealth, fueled the anger felt by demonstrators.

Iran’s government, however, likely saw little choice in trying to push through changes to its gasoline subsidies. Iran spent $26.6 billion on oil subsidies in 2018, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency, the most of any country in the world. Iran spent 15 percent of its overall GDP, or $69.2 billion, that year on oil, electricity and natural gas subsidies.

Keeping gas costs low also benefits the wealthy, as well as those who smuggle Iranian fuel into other countries.

US sanctions, reimposed by Trump, largely have stopped Iran from selling its crude oil abroad, cutting into a crucial source of government income. While Iranian President Hassan Rouhani pledged the money saved from cutting gasoline subsidies would go to the poor, Tehran also needs to cut back spending in order to weather the sanctions.

Already, Iranians have seen their savings chewed away by the rial’s collapse from 32,000 to $1 at the time of the 2015 atomic accord to 126,000 to $1 today. Daily staples also have risen in price.

Even with the hike in gasoline prices, Iran still subsidizes fuel costs. Its economy remains largely state-planned despite privatization efforts. Among other major subsidies are bread and wheat, diesel fuel, heating oil and electricity.

Iran’s minister of industry and trade, Reza Rahmani, pledged on Tuesday that prices will not be increased through the end of the current Iranian year on March 21. However, the gasoline prices came suddenly and without warning overnight, signaling further cuts likely would follow the same way in order to try and control the outcry.

The scale of the gasoline price demonstrations remains unclear even today as Iran so far has not offered nationwide statistics for the number of people arrested, injured or killed in the protests. Amnesty International believes the protests and the security crackdown killed at least 161 people.

One Iranian lawmaker said he thought that over 7,000 people had been arrested, while the country’s interior minister said as many as 200,000 people took part in the demonstrations.

While demonstrators attacked gas stations, the target of choice appeared to be banks. Protesters attacked over 700 banks, smashing ATMs and setting some ablaze, Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said. That anger doesn’t come as a surprise. 

In recent years, banks burdened by bad debts or circled by corruption allegations have collapsed in Iran, sparking sporadic protests by depositors who lost their money. Some of those banks had ties to powerful people within Iran, leading to allegations of cronyism.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called those who attacked the banks “thugs” in his first comments on the demonstrations. His website published a cartoon showing masked rioters attacking a bank, while another frame showed a family and an elderly man with a cane peacefully waiting to withdraw money from an ATM.

“Setting fire to such and such bank is not the action of the people, it is the action of thugs,” Khamenei said, according to his website. “These acts of sabotage do not solve any problem. In fact, they add insecurity to the problems that exist.”

However, bank attacks were widespread in 1978 in the months ahead of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s abandoning the throne and the Islamic revolution. Marxists who hated capitalism, Islamists who opposed usury rates and others taking advantage of the chaos ransacked hundreds of banks, angry over corruption. The Iranian economy nosedived as money flooded out of the country.

The revolution saw millions on the street, something not seen in these recent protests. However, these demonstrations turned violent in the span of a day, showing the danger looming ahead for Iran’s government as it likely faces further hard choices ahead as sanctions look unlikely to be lifted as it has begun breaking centrifuges, enrichment and stockpile limitations in the nuclear deal.

“These riots are not the last ones and it definitely will happen in the future,” Revolutionary Guard acting commander Gen. Ali Fadavi has warned.


Iran frees British-Iranian aid worker Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Updated 27 min 50 sec ago

Iran frees British-Iranian aid worker Zaghari-Ratcliffe

  • Zaghari-Ratcliffe spent the last year of her term under house arrest with electronic shackles tied to her feet

DUBAI: Iran has released British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, her lawyer Hojjat Kermani told Iranian website Emtedad on Sunday, after her five years sentence for plotting to overthrow the clerical establishment.
“She was pardoned by Iran’s Supreme Leader last year, but spent the last year of her term under house arrest with electronic shackles tied to her feet. Now they’re cast off,” Kermani told the website.
“She has been freed.”


Rouhani: Iran ready to take steps when US lifts sanctions

Updated 07 March 2021

Rouhani: Iran ready to take steps when US lifts sanctions

  • ‘Iran is ready to immediately take compensatory measures based on the nuclear deal and fulfill its commitments’
  • Hassan Rouhani: Iran is the only country that kept its side of the bargain

TEHRAN: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Sunday his country was prepared to take steps to live up to measures in the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers as soon as the United States lifts economic sanctions on Iran.
In a meeting with Irish Minister of Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, Rouhani said: “Iran is ready to immediately take compensatory measures based on the nuclear deal and fulfill its commitments just after the US illegal sanctions are lifted and it abandons its policy of threats and pressure.”
Rouhani criticized the European signatories of the historic nuclear deal for what he said was their inaction on their commitments to the agreement. He said Iran is the only country that kept its side of the bargain.
Trump in 2018 unilaterally withdrew the US from the Iranian nuclear accord, in which Tehran had agreed to limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. When the US then reimposed some sanctions and added others, Iran gradually and publicly abandoned the deal’s limits on its nuclear development.
The Republic of Ireland has the role of facilitator in the implementation of the nuclear deal.
Coveney said the withdrawal of former President Donald Trump was a mistake and noted that the new US administration is determined to return to the deal.
In December, Iran’s parliament approved a bill that calls for the suspension of part of UN inspections of its nuclear facilities if European signatories to the 2015 nuclear deal do not provide relief from oil and banking sanctions.

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Jordan’s PM to reshuffle cabinet to hasten IMF-guided reforms

Updated 07 March 2021

Jordan’s PM to reshuffle cabinet to hasten IMF-guided reforms

  • Six new ministers will be named including the interior and justice portfolios
  • Expected reshuffle comes after parliament last week passed a $14 billion budget

AMMAN: Prime Minister Bisher Al-Khasawneh was expected to reshuffle his cabinet on Sunday to help accelerate IMF-guided reforms seen as crucial to economic recovery in Jordan from the blow of the coronavirus pandemic, officials said.
Six new ministers will be named including interior and justice after Khasawneh fired both incumbents last week for attending a restaurant dinner party that violated coronavirus restrictions they were supposed to enforce.
The British-educated Khasawneh, a veteran former diplomat and palace aide, was appointed last October by King Abdullah to restore public trust over the handling of the coronavirus health crisis and defuse anger over successive governments’ failure to deliver on pledges of prosperity and curbing corruption.
Jordan is witnessing a nearly two-month-old surge of infections driven by a more contagious variant of the virus amid rising discontent over worsening economic conditions and curbs on public freedoms under emergency laws.
Aides say Khasawneh was expected to retain Harvard-educated Mohammad Al Ississ as finance minister. He has won International Monetary Fund praise for his handling of the economy during the pandemic, and has negotiated a four-year IMF program worth $1.3 billion, signalling confidence in Jordan’s reform agenda.
The expected reshuffle comes after parliament last week passed a 9.9-billion-dinar ($14 billion) budget which Al Ississ said aimed to maintain fiscal prudence to help ensure financial stability and rein in a record $45 billion public debt.
The economy saw its worst contraction — 3 percent — in decades last year, hit by lockdowns, border closures and a sharp fall in tourism during the pandemic, but the government and the IMF both predict a bounce of similar magnitude this year.
Officials say Jordan’s commitment to IMF reforms and investor confidence in the improved outlook helped the country maintain stable sovereign ratings at a time when other emerging markets were being downgraded.


Explosion on Gaza fishing boat kills 3 Palestinian anglers

Updated 07 March 2021

Explosion on Gaza fishing boat kills 3 Palestinian anglers

  • The cause of the blast was not immediately clear

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip: Three Palestinian fishermen were killed Sunday after a blast ripped through their boat off the Gaza shore, officials said.
Nezar Ayyash, of the association that represents fishermen, said the anglers – two brothers and a cousin – were plying their trade off the coast of the city of Khan Younis in southern Gaza Strip when the explosion happened.
The cause of the blast was not immediately clear.
Palestinian media reports blamed Israeli navy fire, but the Israeli military said it was not involved in this incident. The Hamas-run interior ministry in Gaza said it opened an investigation.
Minutes before the explosion, local media reported that Hamas, the militant group ruling the Gaza Strip, was test-firing rockets toward the sea.


Israel in final phase of easing of lockdown

Updated 07 March 2021

Israel in final phase of easing of lockdown

JERUSALEM: Israel has opened most of its economy as part of its final phase of lifting coronavirus lockdown restrictions, some of them in place since September.
Bars and restaurants, event halls, sporting events, hotels and all primary and secondary education may reopen to the public on Sunday, with some restrictions on entry and capacity. The move comes after months of government-imposed shutdowns.
The Israeli government approved the easing of limitations Saturday night, including the reopening of the main international airport to a limited number of incoming passengers each day.
Most large public activities, including dining at restaurants, are available to people vaccinated against the coronavirus. Israel has sped ahead with its immunization campaign. Over 52% of its population has received one dose and almost 40% have had two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, one of the highest rates in the world.
Israel has confirmed at least 799,000 cases since the start of the pandemic, including 5,856 deaths, according to the Health Ministry.

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